Elizabeth Piper, JCS Health Educator and Social Media Specialist
I’ve often said that addiction is the worst disease. As a daughter of a mother who battled substance use disorder and a father currently battling Parkinson’s Disease, I do not say that lightly. I’ve seen both of my parents brought to their knees by their diagnoses – tears streaming down their faces, hands trembling as their fingers laced together in prayer position, asking, no begging, for some higher power to heal them of their despair. Both of them eventually left jobless, embarrassed, and unable to perform the simplest daily tasks like getting oneself out of bed, making lunch, or driving to the grocery store.
And yet, while every disease carries with it unique burdens and pains, in my experience growing up in a home of addiction, substance use disorder brings with it one powerfully debilitating trait that forms a very thick layer to be peeled back during the recovery process: the presence of shame. Unlike other diseases, addiction will often leave its victims in fields of shame – passed out in public places, shoeless in a jail cell, absent at a child’s college graduation – most of which they won’t even remember.
Dr. Brene Brown, a vulnerability researcher, author and speaker, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Unlike guilt, which in short, sounds like: “I did something wrong,” shame, in comparison, sounds like: “I am something wrong.” This subconscious belief that one is unworthy of connection houses the many demons born of addiction which make it an extremely challenging disease to beat.
The recovery world is known to believe that the essential ingredient to recovery with substance use disorder, a lifelong process, isn’t just sobriety, but also connection – genuine, nonjudgmental, authentic connection. This is why Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other similar support groups can be a positive part of the healing process for those suffering – the very foundation of these meetings is connection with others also suffering from the disease of addiction.
Next month, Jewish Community Services is co-hosting a Stoop Storytelling Series, Of Substance, where seven ordinary people will share real, personal stories about their complicated and contradictory relationships with drugs and alcohol. In a world where addiction is vastly misunderstood and heavily stigmatized, it is these events that serve as a catalyst for education, empathy, change, and most importantly, connection. We invite you to join us in this movement to bring awareness to the disease of addiction and those it affects.
Elizabeth Piper is a Health Educator and Social Media Specialist at JCS
JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.